This has been a big reading week for me, mostly via audio book because I’ve had to do huge avalanche of rote editing at work, the kind of editing which doesn’t require all of my brain. It was hard to decide which book to write about first. I am re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) which I read years ago. It’s even more amazing this time around. I just finished George Orwell’s school memoir, Such Such Were the Joys. And I’m re-reading Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis (two memoirs, two English writers from the first half of the 20th century, both of whom use in the work “joy” in the title with vastly different intentions!). But the book I’m going focus on for today’s post is one I read this week for the first time – The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron (Tarcher, July 1992). This book has been around for a while and I’ve been meaning to read it for years.

The Artist’s Way is a fantastic and inspiring book about things that block our creativity and specific techniques for freeing it up. Julia Cameron uses a model similar to 12-step drug and alcohol programs and in fact refers to her audience as “recovering artists.” Apparently we are recovering from the destructive patterns we have set up out of fear to avoid following our calling as artists. The chapters are set up as a progressive 12-step course, each setting up a problem and possible solutions, and ending with a set of specific assignments to help you master the concept and get your creativity flowing. For example, weeks one, two, and three are titled Recovering a Sense of Safety, Recovering a Sense of Identity, and Recovering a Sense of Power.

I did find many useful practices in this book, some of which I already do. For example, one of Cameron’s linchpin techniques is to get up in the morning and write down your stream-of-conscious thoughts for three notebook pages, a technique she calls “Morning Pages.” I don’t do this first thing in the morning, but I do it. The first thing I do in the morning is make a pot of coffee. The second thing I do is exercise for at least 30 minutes, because that is the biggest pain and if I don’t get it over with first thing, I probably won’t do it at all.

There are so many things the gurus want you to do first thing in the morning: write down your dreams, do your Bible study, write, walk your dog, kiss your significant other….but there is only one first in the morning and I use that time to brew coffee and maintain my body. I figure my body is my foundational tool for doing everything else for the duration of my stay on this planet, so I’d better keep it maintained. Like paying my bills or getting the oil changed. Besides, I can thank God for another day and gather my thoughts while I work out.

Cameron says that we need to acknowledge, worship, and seek guidance from the God of Creation. She seems to assume that acknowledging a spiritual reality is outside of her readers’ comfort zone. I gather this because she assures us she is not talking about the old Christian god, which presumably we have already rejected and grown beyond and are too sophisticated to believe in. She says it doesn’t much matter what you call the God of Creation, as long as you realize that he wants you to create and that if you follow your artistic desires you will be following him.

Well, I am not too sophisticated to believe in the old Christian God but I see her point. Many people imagine God as this stern disapproving parent figure who wants us to shut up and do our duty and never to indulge ourselves by having fun or acting on our most cherished dreams. This view of God has more to do with our fear and social conditioning than with the nature of God. But I believe that it does matter very much what you call God. The Bible is all about identifying who this God is and what He is like and also what He is not. I also believe that is not only possible but quite common to have all manner of desires that are not within God’s will. But if your desires are to use the gifts He has given you, and you honestly seek to be true to what you were created to be, then yes, ideally your desires would be in perfect accord with the desires of your Creator. That would the best possible life.

Cameron indicates that if you believe you are an artist by nature, meaning any kind of creative person – writer, painter, sculptor, film maker, etc. – then your art should be your highest priority, even if you have to sacrifice other things, such as time with your family. Again, I agree with this concept up to a certain point. Every choice you make eliminates other choices. Not that I can’t multitask. Today I actually drew illustrations while driving between errands. Please don’t report me! I only drew while stopped at traffic lights. I had to try out some new colors I just bought at Jerry’s Artarama.

But writing and art demand focus and attention and preclude spending your time on other things, such as socializing or keeping up with reality shows. There was a certain period in my life when I had to draw the line and decide to focus on something other than my creative desires. It was a long period, beginning with the birth of my first son 18.75 years ago and lasting until approximately now. The balance between raising children and pursuing one’s creative dreams and goals is a big huge subject for me that has dominated my life and thoughts for …well 18.75 years. So that’s what I am going to discuss in my next post. Stay tuned, especially those of you who have both children and creative aspirations!

6 Responses to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: 12 steps to unblocking your creativity (Been meaning to read it for years!)

  1. Brenda says:

    I really enjoyed The Artist's Way, I thought she made some wonderful points and teaches a person how to put his/jherself first. I am not an early morning writer, and life sort of gets in my way sometimes, but I do write everyday. You might also enjoy The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp. I enjoyed this one more than the Creative Way.. Maybe because I was further along in developing my voice and making space in my life for 'me pursuits'. Looking forward to the next one..

  2. Katrina says:

    I like the suggestion about Morning Writing. I generally don't do that unless I have a shockingly vivid dream, and I don't want to forget it… which happens fairly frequently-ish.

  3. clairemca says:

    Its good to be able to read an inspiring text such as this, but also to be able to say, you know what, I like my routine, I'm ok with how I start my day. We always need a filter for books of advice, some things stick and others just float away like debris.

    Great post Carol, can't believe you can draw at traffic lights :) but toally get that you needed to try out those new colours.

  4. Hmm, I definitely make time for my writing everyday, but I don't put it before my family. They will always be first for me. Though I have my set writing time during the day and they are great about that. I think there can be a balance. I'm looking forward to your next post, Carol. Definitely a topic I can relate to.

  5. Great post Carol, very well written and full of insight I agree with! You are an avid reader and this fuels your writing. Well done.

  6. VERY interesting. I agree with your analyses on all the things you mentioned…what to do first thing in the morning, God, and how much time you should devote to your art. Not everyone has the luxury to do it 24/7. Balance is important. Same w/ the first in the morning thing. I think you have chosen good priorities, Carol Coffee and exercise :-) Hae you read the whole book? Can't wait to see what you have to say about balance! It's a big theme these days…

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